In early June, the Chehalis Tribe released their public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Chehalis River flood retention dam. Unsurprisingly, the Tribe’s comments confirmed their opposition to the dam. As a Lewis County resident, I am grateful for the Tribe’s leadership and their carefully thought out and substantive comments. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly support the Tribe’s commitment to finding non-dam solutions that can reduce flooding and support fish in the Chehalis Basin. However, the purpose of this letter is to specifically thank the Tribe for their inclusion of comments addressing habitat connectivity, migratory corridors, and wildlife.
As stated by the Chehalis Tribe, the DEIS fails to use adequate scientific data to make thorough impact statements on a variety of environmental elements. One element that was overlooked is the damage the dam will cause to habitat connectivity and migratory corridors along the Chehalis River. The Chehalis River and its associated vegetation create pathways for native wildlife including deer, elk, cougar, and many more.
In fact, 85 percent of Washington’s wildlife rely on the types of corridors found along the Chehalis River, which makes analyzing the potential for damage to these pathways via a dam, a key function of the DEIS. For some animals, these corridors facilitate annual movements for migrations, and for others, they facilitate daily or seasonal movements. Regardless of how a species uses these river corridors, the fact is, species’ population health, and resiliency to climate change are deeply rooted in how functional and accessible these corridors are.
The Chehalis Tribe’s comments remind us that we must look holistically at ecological gains and losses to promote resilient systems that will not need constant upkeep and repair to remain viable. One way to limit ecological blind spots is to do a better job of including habitat connectivity in assessments for proposed development.
Thankfully, the Chehalis Tribe has recognized and publicly addressed the failure in the DEIS to include analysis of habitat connectivity and migratory corridors. If flood reduction and species’ restoration is to be achieved in the Chehalis Basin, the concerns posed by the Chehalis Tribe will have to be addressed. Washingtonians and lovers of wildlife owe the Chehalis Tribe a great debt of gratitude for considering these important issues and voicing their concerns publicly. In closing, I would argue that when the voice of a people whose culture is so deeply connected to the land and the river speak on this issue, it is imperative we take the time to listen.
Brian Stewart, M.E.S.
Cascades to Olympics Program Coordinator for Conservation Northwest